Possibility of Combined Non-Discrimination, Religious Liberty Legislation in Doubt

Capitol Hill sources tell UtahPolicy that strong personalities, feelings and internal politics could rip apart the idea that one of the most controversial measures in the 2015 Legislature – a combined bill on anti-discrimination for gays and religious freedom guarantees – could stand alone.

Ever since leaders of the LDS Church several weeks ago held a press conference calling for a legislative solution on both issues, it’s been assumed that only one bill on both issues would come forward.

But now other pressures could force a separation of the issues – with the possibility that one or both could fail at the session’s last minute – bringing real anger and arguments of backroom sabotage one way or the other.

The controversy, now being debated in legislative back rooms, briefly came to light Tuesday, when Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, asked permission of the House to open a new bill file.

The deadline for new bill files has passed, and any member has to get a majority vote of his body to open such a file.

It’s customary for the sponsor to tell colleagues what the new bill will be about. But Dee carefully didn’t say what his bill file would be, and no representative asked from the floor.

UtahPolicy later asked Dee what the new bill file would be, but he refused to say – except that it had something to do with issues between the House and Senate.

Wednesday, sources told UtahPolicy that Dee’s new bill file could be a vehicle to separate, on the House side, the religious freedom issue.

It’s become clear that Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, is not giving up his bill on anti-discrimination for gays and lesbians in housing and employment.

Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, has a bill on religious freedom guarantees.

Urquhart is a veteran of both the House and Senate. And he has taken a great deal of grief over his gay and lesbian anti-discrimination bill the last few years.

With the Church leaders’ statement in support of Urquhart’s bill, it’s passage is finally possible.

Anderegg, on the other hand, was first elected in 2012, and it was questioned whether he would be allowed by powerful senators to carry a bill so important to leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dee is the former House majority leader and currently is a member of House GOP leadership as the vice-chair of the powerful Executive Appropriations Committee.

In any case, Dee has now opened a bill file that could be the House vehicle for a religious freedom law – should the politics of the controversial measures require two different bills.

It is not just an argument over who gets official credit for the ground-breaking measures, sources say, although that could play a part.

There are those in both bodies who want only the gay and lesbian anti-discrimination measure, and those who want only the religious freedom measure.

Putting both in one bill would – both politically and through the bill-passing process – be easier to deal with, perhaps.

But there are real questions whether the issues even should be combined – as in practice they appear to be unrelated:

A gay person should be able to rent an apartment separate from a religious person speaking openly in public or carrying some of his ideals in his work place – as long as no one else is harmed, sources told UtahPolicy on Wednesday.

But there are strong feelings on both sides of the issues, both in the House and in the Senate.

And that is why Dee opened a bill file Tuesday, with consent of the House – a bill that may or may not need to be used.

How the anti-discrimination for gays and lesbians in housing and employment and how religious freedoms are further guaranteed in the 2015 Legislature will be an interesting dance to watch.